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Firefly - ’Serenity’ Movie - Aintitcool.com Review 4 (spoilers)

Saturday 14 May 2005, by Webmaster

What’s this? A Browncoat that didn’t like SERENITY? Stop the presses!!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a FIREFLY fan who managed to sneak his way into the Las Vegas SERENITY screening. The big surprise is he’s got something negative to say about the movie, an opinion we’ve only gotten once before from a non-fan. Reading the review I was reminded of my feelings upon seeing THE PHANTOM MENACE. I was so desperately wanting to like it because it was STAR WARS and you have to love everything STAR WARS, right? I found myself trying to make excuses for the movie, refusing to accept that what I saw was a sub-par film and for a STAR WARS film to be sub-par was unthinkable. This wasn’t something you could write off like THE EWOK ADVENTURE, a spin-off movie. This was Lucas at the helm, Jedi and lightsabers all over the place. Anyway, the below review has some brightly marked spoiler sections so beware those. The film has gotten predominantly enthusiastic reviews, so take that into consideration as well... But I have to tell you... This one feels the most honest out of any I’ve read. Give it a read and see what you think.

Herc & Harry,

I hope this review can get posted, though I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t either, as I know you sometimes show some favoritism and avoid negative press on projects from folks who are close to you or the site (and I can obviously see Joss is a fan and relying on your site for positive press, so I understand you skipping this as we’ve all sold out from time to time for the greater good). And Herc, I know what a HUGE fan you are, in fact, you’re probably one of the blind supporters of this film I speak of below (and obviously a friend to Whedon who wouldn’t say a negative word to sully that friendship). Please know, Herc, I’m quite possibly as big a Whedonite as you, and this one just let me down in a rather big way.

Please know I send this only in the hopes it can do good for the film, if seen by the right people, and I hope you might use the spirit of this site and post an opposing opinion to what you’ve seen previously.

Thanks, and if you use this, call me BC.

— -

Serenity - Review, May 5th screening, Las Vegas

I’m not sure what it takes to be a "Browncoat" (for the unsure, a fan of Joss Whedon’s "Firefly" universe). I joined the "Firefly" community website and got a user name as soon as it went online. Even tried to do some of the tasks and nab me some points towards cool "Firefly" swag. I watched all the episodes in their out-of-chronology order when they aired originally on Fox and loved them despite the disjoined way in which the network presented them. I’ve watched the DVDs several times over and passed them on to friends who all loved the show, yet never heard of it before. I was absolutely thrilled when I noticed my visit to Las Vegas coincided with the big "Serenity" screening last week, giddy when I got into the line of eager fans, even thrilled at the free "Serenity" keychain I was presented with whilst waiting in said line. Practically broke my hands clapping when both Whedon and Summer Glau walked onstage to introduce the film.

So, why, amongst a sea of already overwhelmingly positive, gushing "Serenity" reviews do I feel the need to write in and toss in my two cents? Because I was let down. Sort of like a kid who wanted a brand new Xbox for Christmas and instead got a Sega Dreamcast. I opened the box of "Serenity" eagerly and with joy, only to slowly realize it didn’t live up to all I’d hoped and dreamed it would be.

Now, before the bashings begin (I figure some of you Browncoats have already decided you’re going to scroll right down to that talkback box and start laying down the smack), I want you to know I’m not at all writing this review to sabotage the film. I’m writing it in the hopes that, with 6 months until a release date, some of this can be reshot, re-edited, and fixed.

I’m going to do this spoiler-free, except where noted, though still not spill any major beans. I respect the film, the fans, and what we were able to do to make this movie happen. Like Joss said, both in person and on video in Las Vegas, WE made this happen. And I felt so proud and excited when he said that, that even after the movie ended, I was trying to somehow convince myself I was wrong, and that I really liked it. I wanted to support it blindly, despite its faults, just to see if a cancelled TV series could be resurrected (on TV or even in film) successfully. I wanted to say I loved it to everyone I met even if I hated it. I wanted to, like Joss said, take to the streets and shout praise of the film from now until opening day, massing up hordes to take in the glory that is "Serenity". But I just can’t do that. I’ve got issues.

Where to begin?

Well first off, let me say I dug the first 30 minutes or so of the film, for the most part. The characters were at least introduced well, though they all felt like shadows of themselves somehow. I’m not sure if that’s what Joss intended (time indeed seems to have passed since our final episode of "Firefly" and the events of "Serenity"), but everyone just seemed to be two steps further back from each other than they ever were before. The coldness of the cast made me feel like I needed to wear an extra layer in the theater. All of that kinship that I had grown to love as the characters grew in the "Firefly" ’verse, over just 14 episodes, seemed to be tossed out the window. I felt like, for I’d say 90 percent of the film, I was watching characters who never had to work or live together before. It was robotic. Aside from Jayne, whose character seemed the most in line with his TV counterpart, the rest of the cast seemed rather cold and uncaring towards one another. Perhaps it wouldn’t seem as out of place to the uneducated viewer, but to me, knowing what these folks have been though, their bonds should be tighter.

Listen, I’m no Trekkie, but from what I recall, I’ve heard there were a lot of differences of opinion amongst the actors and actresses from those original Star Trek films. For all the camaraderie between the "Firefly" folks off screen, it seemed to me like they hated each other onscreen. So, if that was Whedon’s intention, mission accomplished. For me, though, the greatest part of "Firefly" wasn’t the Reavers or the action or the amazing near-misses and close calls, but what came before and after all that: The characters, and their relationships (my favorite aspect of all Whedon’s work, really).

I’m a realist and I understand that TV and film are two different mediums. With the show, we had hours upon hours to get to know and love these characters. With a film, Joss has the tough challenge of rewarding the longtime fans, but not alienating new viewers in any way. In this battle, I think we both lost. New viewers, I think, are going to be lost. Or at least miss a lot of what DOES work in the film. Fans are going to wonder why we’re seeing such a skewed vision of the characters, universe, and relationships we dug about the show. It amazes me, though, how in less time and on a much smaller budget, Joss did such a better job at introducing the characters, their relationships, and the ’verse in "Firefly’s" pilot episode than he did in this film. In fact, I almost think if you showed the pilot episode and the feature film to focus groups unfamiliar with the show, the pilot would score higher.

But I digress. Let’s get back to the film itself.

So, honestly, who didn’t love the western elements of the program? So where were they in this movie? Everyone I’ve shown "Firefly" to tells me that they really dug the way Joss managed to take a western and make it into science fiction. The way the two genres seamlessly blended on the TV program was, next to the characters themselves, the most unique and enjoyable part of the ’verse. I seem to recall hearing that, back when the show was on the cancellation bubble, the network brass wanted all the western elements scrapped and the show retooled as a full-blown sci-fi series. Seems that this mandate has carried over into "Serenity" the film, something I feared may have been a stipulation in order to get the movie made. Can’t you just hear the studio execs telling Whedon they’ll give him his budget if he promises to get rid of the horses and cowboys? That audiences aren’t intelligent enough to get the connection? Sadly, they may be right. As a devout fan, I found it to be an insult. Maybe it’s just that the temp music track didn’t have enough of that fiddle and banjo type stuff employed on the series so much. Then again, the way the film looks and plays, it’d almost be out of place. This flick is nearly 100% pure sci-fi now. And that’s a big loss to me.

I’ve read some other reviews of this film and noticed that folks are praising it but also citing a lot of the problems I’ve mentioned above - These problems aren’t minor quibbles with the film, as these other reviews state, they are MAJOR issues that need fixed.
— - START OF MINOR SPOILERS (carefully touched upon plot developments) follow:

1. The Reavers plot (and ultimate reveal) feels like a re-hash of "28 Days Later". So close to that, really, that I had to wonder if that was truly the best an original voice as Joss Whedon could come up with. From the trailer, I’d hoped that the Reavers, as they were in the series, were just a small subplot in the film - To find that they were going to be used as the main plot device, even so far as to tying them into the River storyline, was a great disappointment. I’d have much rather seen Niska, the nazi-like kingpin from two of the series’ episodes, running the show as this flick’s requisite Big Bad.

2. The main plot about getting the signal out there? The all-important information that will bring down "the man" and all we gotta do is get the top-secret video footage seen by the world? "Strange Days" comes to mind. I’m sure there’s more. Who can name a movie where the plot was to get an incriminating tape out for the world to hear to change history? Anyone else? QUINT NOTE: THEY LIVE!

Anyway, you’ll see. It’s just not original. To have the film’s main two plot devices basically rehashes of been-there, done-that concepts was a letdown for me. Joss Whedon is one of the most creative original voices out there as far as his television work (I’m a Buffy and Angel fan as well), so to see the lack of originality in the plot devices of "Serenity" was a great disappointment.

3. The unnamed bounty hunter seen in the trailer after River? I’d say that whole notion was done much more creatively and compellingly by Whedon in "Objects in Space", "Firefly’s" premature series finale.

4. Finally, the much-discussed pair of established character expirations in the film. The first was almost like a "huh?" to me, only because it hardly seemed necessary, given the character’s lack of screentime and impact to the story. The best analogy I can come up with is having a plant that you can’t get to thrive, and instead of watering it and giving it some fertilizer, just tossing it into the trash can. That’s what Joss did with that character in this film. I’m sad about that. It seemed pointless.

The final one is a REAL slap in the face to fans. Then again, we’re talking about the guy who killed off Wesley in the Angel series finale, so nothing’s off the table. However, disappointed as I was when that final character death took place, the following minutes were an insult to that character, and every relationship in the entire ’verse - On the "Firefly" TV series, someone got even a nasty wound, and you felt like the world was ending for them - This time around, both we the audience and the characters don’t miss a beat. The character’s death is treated like a flat tire that no one had time to change, so they just walked away and left the car stranded without giving it a second look. I hope Joss can re-edit that the right way. Suffice it to say, if by some miracle we ever got more from this part of the Joss-verse, I couldn’t imagine watching future episodes or films about "Firefly" without this person. To me, this is either Joss saying he knows this is the last (and only) film, OR that, for some reason, this person didn’t want to return to the role following this project, should it succeed and create the opportunity for future installments. I think when Joss filmed this he pictured it as a massive gasp/shock moment for the audience. And for a second, it was. Then it turned into anger over the stupidity of it all, and the coldness with which it was handled.

You know, it sort of reminds me of how I watch Aliens now, knowing that Newt and Hicks aren’t going to make it on that ride between that film and Fincher’s Alien3 - Watching episodes of "Firefly" with those characters in peril now are forever ruined for me. I guess having only 14 episodes to establish a character before you proceed to kill them right off just doesn’t feel right to me. The impact wasn’t great enough to the audience, and certainly not to the folks I saw on screen. I’ve seen more emotion put into folks burying their dead dogs and cats. Ugh. Sickening, really. If Joss wanted to incite anger in the viewers, though, mission accomplished. This is David Fincher’s Firefly. But not in a good, Fight Club kinda way. Sort of in a dirty, nasty, character-betraying Alien3 kinda way. End SPOILERAGE!!!

Explanations? Again, a tough pill to swallow here, but those of you looking for answers to a couple of big questions aren’t going to find them in the film. Again, granted, Joss had to make a picture for the new fan, but in the process, didn’t do anything to answer, for me, two of the show’s greatest mysteries - What was the blue hand group up to (or were they just government assassins with fancy toys?) and what was Shepherd’s true tie-in with the Alliance? Guess we’ll never know.

If I’m going for a rating scale, with the pilot of "Firefly" (called "Serenity" coincidentally) being a 10, I’d give "Serenity" the film, a not-so-solid 5. I realize that this flick is, more or less, in the can, but if there’s a way to warm it up a little bit and bring back the characters as I knew and loved them from the series, it would go a long way. There’s a reason everyone who watches the "Firefly" DVDs gets hooked - To take most of those elements away and create a wholly different vibe isn’t going to bring in a new audience. And for this "Firefly" fan, it was a far cry from a fitting finale. Give me a choice to give up either my favorite few episodes of the box set or this film, and never watch one again - I’d take the series without hesitation. I’m willing to bet most any fan will argue that the series is far superior to the feature film, even those that loved it.

So, there you have it, naysayers - A lot of you are crying foul that Whedon fans are blinded by the glory and unable to see any fault in his work. I consider myself a big Whedon fan, having religiously watched "Buffy", "Angel", and "Firefly", both in broadcast and box-set form, and I gotta say, for me, this one’s a miss.

I’m certain that loyal Whedonites and Browncoats will call me a traitor to the cause for writing this review. I’m just not one who can proclaim blind loyalty to a product I can’t fully support. Please understand I’m entitled to my opinion, even if it upsets you.

I realize the general plot is set and can’t change, and that does make me sad - But I’m hoping maybe with some tweaks we can still get our "Firefly" back, and not the dark, gritty, bizarro-ish universe that I witnessed last Thursday. Sadly, my guess is that we’ll see close to what we’re all seeing now in a final product, and I’m curious to see if other brave souls might step forward (even those of you that have seen it already, like me) if they feel the same way as I did about the film. Then again, perhaps if you go into the film with lower expectations than I had, in reading this review, you won’t be as let down as I was by the finished product. I was hoping for a new sci-fi film series for a new generation, much like Star Wars was for me as I was growing up. I’m afraid that as it stands, this will likely be both the beginning and the end of the film series.

Perhaps it’s just that this ’verse is one that was always meant for TV, where to me it became one of the most brilliant, enjoyable sci-fi blends ever on the small screen. Fox, I still curse you for cutting this universe short. And Joss, you tried, you really did - I’m just sorry that I didn’t enjoy the movie. Thank you for coming to Las Vegas, and thank you for giving a loyal fan of your’s the chance to see it early. Good luck with it, and with your future projects. I’ll keep watching. And I’ll of course pay my 10 bucks and give the finished "Serenity" another chance once you finish it. It’s the least this Browncoat can do.

Still (and always) a Browncoat,